Around the world, gay bars have always been special places for LGBT people.
They've been the place we've found a community for the first time in our lives that understands us, as well as the first place we've kissed and loved someone for the first time in our lives publicly.
And most incredibly, they've been the place where so many of us began to love ourselves for the first time in our lives and how to not let the self-hate that we've all battled growing up in a world that doesn't celebrate who here continue to cling to us, and even destroy us, like water to a napkin.
However due to this, our bars have also become sites of extreme violence for decades like the churches or mosques in Charleston and Kansas City that have faced their own violence due to being places in which black people or Muslim people can come together and love themselves.
Places like New Orleans' Upstairs lounge in 1973 when an arsonist set fire and killed 32 people; or Otherside Lounge, an Atlanta lesbian bar, that was bombed in 1997; or bars like Neighbors nightclub that Musab Mohammed Masamari set fire to while over 200 people danced as the clock struck midnight on January 1 2013 stating earlier to a confidante that his reason was because LGBT people "should be exterminated."
And now Pulse nightclub is not only added to this list of sites that served for many of us as a church, but it's also the site of the most tragic act of terrorism on American soil since the attack on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001.
Reports are emerging that Omar Mateen was gay or engaging in same-sex relations with others. Some are saying that he had attended the nightclub before on other nights, even wrapping his hands around men. That he was on hook-up apps talking to people he sought to explore the love he seemingly hated. And they are feeling that what led to Sunday's tragedy was what we all know too well: self-hate.
And this narrative, while the worst our country has seen, is not new--rather it's a well traveled path that many of us have seen too often.
Two years ago, I spent time in Greensboro, North Carolina, reporting on the life of a young man named Garry Gupton. He grew up in a household that held radically conservative beliefs, he struggled with loving himself in a world that told him not too, and he also went to a nightclub one night that changed many lives on 8 November 2014: he attacked Stephen White after they engaged in sex in a hotel room eventually lighting him on fire, leading to his death.
A few months before I sat in the living room of Dionte Greene as his mother cried to me and talked about how her son was a "good kid" who didn't deserve to be shot in the face during Halloween. And that she, and the community around her, believe the men that did it did so not onto because Greene was gay, but because they were battling their own sexuality.
I could keep going on and on especially as we continue to experience a historic rise in the murders of trans women in the US, all mainly by men they knew who were too afraid to tell the world about that love.
And also because we scientifically know that the most homophobic people in the world are actually battling their own desires--their own acceptance of themselves.
When shots began to ring out around 2 AM at Pulse on Sunday, I coincidentally found myself in my hometown of Nashville at that a nightclub I first went to when I was 18. Since that time they have remodeled some it has pretty much stayed the same. While there I couldn't help but reflect on the day that I first walked into that club and how I couldn't even tell my family I liked men--and how just a few years before I tried to take my own life because, potentially like Mateen, I hated who I was.
I thought about how far I had come, the people I had met, the life I had created that I could have never imagined that was due to the confidence I gain within those walls year ago. But most importantly I thought about how I love myself now.
When I awoke the next morning to find out that as I had danced, people who looked like me were murdered as they did the same thing as I had been doing--people who were so heroic to enter that space and dance and love themselves especially during a Latin night, which was their only night to do such a thing as people of color, I began to weep in bed.
While my tears fell, I thought about that gay bar again and I remembered all the new, younger faces I saw that night and how they looked so free on the dance floors, and felt fear that I hadn't felt in years begin creeping back.
In that moment, I hoped that those young LGBT folks I saw dancing that night didn't lose that freedom they felt on the dance floor, especially now. I hoped they kept loving themselves unapologetically and loudly. And I hoped that they continue to dance and kiss and love and be queer.
Because that's how we will win--by not letting the hate fill us.
Zach Stafford is editor at large at Out, as well as a contributing writer for The Guardian where he covers justice, violence, and social issues within his investigate reporting and columns. His work has been featured in The Nation, Slate, and many other outlets, and he often appears on television to give commentary and discuss his work on outlets like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and CNN. He is also the co-editor of the bestselling book Boys, An Anthology.